Pillaton WI Report - June 2012

The Life and Times of a Professional Caterer

Our speaker this month was Val Budgen-Causey and her topic was The Life and Times of a Professional Caterer. Val was a lovely lively person whose presence filled the room.

She described her childhood in Kent and how originally she planned to become a teacher but one A level eluded her. So, as she had always enjoyed cooking, describing having helping her grandmother, from an early age, to put jam into jam tarts, she decided that catering was for her.

This wasn’t an easy path to take because back in the early 70’s catering was a very much male dominated profession. However Val was not put off by this. As she said, the more she was told this was not a job for a woman, the more she was determined to do it. So she applied for a place at Thanet College, in Kent and which, incidentally, is where Jamie Oliver was also trained. Life certainly was different in the 70’s as not only was she interviewed but so were her parents to check her suitability. She was awarded a place and studied there for three years obtaining a degree in hotel and catering management.

On completion of her degree, she found a job with the BBC outside catering. At the same time as this, Princess Anne was just about to marry Capt. Mark Phillips and to move into a house in the grounds of Sandhurst Military Academy. Princess Anne had appointed a cook/housekeeper. However this lady rather blotted her copybook by being indiscrete to the press so she was sacked. This meant that there was a vacancy for this job. Princess Anne’s secretary, the rather formidable Brenda contacted the College to see if there was someone who could step in for a month. The Principal replied that he had “just the person” and yes, you’ve guessed it, this was Val who after feeling miffed that she was being diverted from the BBC, agreed to give the job a trial.

She packed her bags, trundled along the A25 (no M25 in those days) in her two toned car to Sandhurst where a handsome cadet met her at the gate. Ah, she thought, perhaps this wasn’t so bad after all! She was then handed over to Jim Beaton, Princess Anne’s Royal Protection Officer (he was the one that had saved the Princess from an attempt to kidnap her) who explained how to address the Princess and how to curtsey. However, we all know what can happen to the best of plans! Val’s first meeting with the Princess didn’t quite go to plan. She suddenly came across a stranger in the house, who said, “You must be Val” who replied, “Yes I am, who are you?” The reply was, yes you’ve guessed it “I’m Princess Anne”. This caused great confusion as Val went to curtsy, tripped up and fell over. As Val is six foot plus tall, there were legs and arms flying everywhere. However this was a good icebreaker. (If any of you reading this run any type of training courses, I do not recommend this as an icebreaker on your course!) But going back to Val, she attributed this lack of recognition to the fact that when “off duty” Princess Anne always wears her hair down making her look completely different and very attractive.

This first meeting did not seem to have any adverse effects, as after only two weeks Val was offered the job permanently.

We heard a number of amusing stories of life in the Royal household. These varied from forgetting to turn the alarm off when letting the Royal dogs out early in the mornings and having the royal protectors – Ghurkha soldiers – come rushing around to not only preparing a meal for Princess Anne’s parents, grandmother and brother i.e. the Queen, Prince Phillip, the Queen Mother and Prince Charles, but having to serve it as well. Val’s mother’s advice over this was to have plenty of gin during the day to give Dutch courage.

It appeared though, that there had been something missing during the three year catering course. This was how to use kitchen gadgets such as a blender – very frowned upon apparently. So, when faced with making chicken liver pate for the Royal family, Val decided to use a blender without knowing how it worked. This was disastrous as the top shot off and pate went all over the kitchen. Val screamed and Princess Anne plus Labradors came rushing in to see what was wrong. She sized up the situation and decided it could be rectified so between them, they scraped up the pate from wherever it had landed, sieved out the dog hairs and served it to the Queen for dinner. Her response? Lovely!

Val stayed with the Royal Household for three years before moving on to pastures new by going to work for the Sutcliffe Catering Co in London and eventually becoming Director of this company. After twelve years she left to buy her own coaching house. Life moved on and she now lives in Launceston spending a chunk of her time giving talks such as the one she gave us. A very interesting person indeed.

One of her other titles is “ Growing Old Disgracefully”. Can Pillaton WI tell her a thing or two about this do you think? Answers on a postcard!!

Pam Lowther

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Last updated: 15 July 2012 Contact Us